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Minnesotans with disabilities: Facing cuts and feeling snubbed

March 14, 2011
Jenn Brookens — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - As state budget cuts continue across the board, non-profit agencies like the ARC are depending more than ever on donations and fund raising efforts.

"We've had cuts since 2003, and they've never been made up," said LeeAnn Erickson of ARC Southwest, which serves people with disabilities. "We had one Senator (Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls) tell us that our funding wouldn't be touched this year, then they came out with a budget that cut us by 13 percent."

The biggest fundraiser for ARC Southwest is the annual rose sale. Pre-orders are taken now through March 30, with a dozen red or "lollipop" roses on sale for $20. The roses will be available on Good Friday - April 22 - and can be picked up at Hy-Vee, or other arrangements can be made.

Article Photos

Local People First! members pose for a group photo before ARC’s annual Rose Sale on Saturday.

During Saturday's "People First" meeting, several issues facing people with disabilities in the area were pointed out.

"We were issued a state apology last summer for the institutions (where) people were kept in the 1950s," Erickson said. "The apology picnics are still ongoing. We had one last summer and were hoping that a representative from the state would show up, but no one did. There was one in Marshall on Friday, and no one from the state showed up for that one either."

For some at the meeting, it felt as if the politicians were trying to say that people with disabilities are not important.

It was a point that became more raw on Saturday. A member from the Fairmont City Council and from the Martin County Commissioners were reportedly scheduled to talk to the group, and both failed to show.

"This makes me very mad and sad," said a woman who only identified herself as Julie. "They don't care enough about us to show up."

"We knew both were busy," said Pat Willett, one of the organizers for People First. "The mayor wasn't sure he would make it, but he said he would send a council member."

But it seemed to drive the point home that people with disabilities will need to be more active to make their voices be heard.

"We are looking at making a trip up to the state Capitol," said Erickson. "We need to go up and meet with these representatives at the state level. They need to hear from us and realize how these cuts affect us. When they go in to vote on things that they know will hurt us, they have to walk right by us, and it could make them think about it more."

In the meantime, this particular group also is working to help themselves and the ARC. The woman known as Julie donated her $100 tax refund to the ARC on Saturday.

"For a self-advocate to come in and give back to this organization, I think is very touching, especially when you see so many people taking and not giving," Erickson said. "She said she wanted to give her money to an organization that does good things."



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